Florida celebrates open government Sunshine Week

The Florida Secretary of State picked an unusual way to observe Sunshine Week, a celebration of open government:

Sunshine Week started off with the slamming of the secretary of state's door Monday, when Leon County Commissioner Bob Rackleff and news reporters were shut out of an announced public meeting on county voting issues.

"I've always said I have no objection to the press, but we do make faster progress without people having to look at cameras - that's a fact," said Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb.

Tallahassee Democrat Political Editor Bill Cotterell, Associated Press reporter Brent Kallestad and cameraman Dave Heller also were threatened with eviction from a hallway outside Cobb's closed conference room by Capitol Police for trying to attend the meeting with Cobb, Leon County Commission Chairman Bill Proctor, Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho and staff members.

"I'm very concerned and very confused," Democrat Executive Editor Bob Gabordi said. "I have to know that when reporters show up to a meeting that has been given proper public notice, that they will not be harassed and threatened with arrest."

Of course, the Florida Secretary of State's office has an interesting record on voting issues. No wonder they like to discuss them in private.

In related Sunshine Week news, Tennessee lawmakers introduced new legislation that would put teeth into the state's open meetings "Sunshine Laws". Laws have been on the books since 1974, but there aren't any penalties. The new legislation would clarify the rules and impose fines of up to $50 for each violation by city and county officials.

Somehow, $50 doesn't sound like much of a penalty for a secret meeting between, say, a wealthy developer and a zoning board to grease a multi-million dollar real-estate deal. It wouldn't even amount to much of a tip. But it's better than nothing, and should help raise awareness of the law.

Curiously, the law would not apply to the Tennessee General Assembly itself. According to a legal opinion by the state Attorney General's office, the state constitution prohibits the legislature from passing laws regulating itself. Instead, each legislature makes its own rules, and successive bodies are not bound by them. Therefore, the AG opines, binding the General Assembly to the state's sunshine laws would require a constitutional amendment.

So, open government in the Tennessee General Assembly will apparently have to get in line behind anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage amendments.